Siva worship in Sri Lanka | Daily News

Siva worship in Sri Lanka

Siva worship in Sri Lanka is deep-rooted and interwoven in the ethos of the Sri Lankan Hindu society. Generally, it is based on Saiva Agama tradition, Hindu moral codes and rituals. According to legend, Ravana the famed king of ancient Sri Lanka was an ardent devotee of Lord Siva. He ruled the country conforming to the edicts of Hindu values and moral codes. This brought him great recognition and fame. 

The land he ruled got the honorific name Ravanathipathy. Sri Lanka is known as “Elangai” or “Elangapuri’’ in Tamil since ancient times, King Ravana was called Elangeshwaran. Being a fervent devotee of Lord Siva he imbibed the rules and values and adhered to all the Hindu practices in rituals, art, culture and tradition.

Sri Lanka is well known as a country where the Hindu Bakthi cult is deeply entrenched. The Bakthi cult is followed by the Hindus throughout the island. Hindus of Sri Lanka are devoted to Hindu traditionalism. They carry out the worship of Lord Siva in accordance with Saiva agama codes, or margams. The first and foremost among them is the bodily worship known as Sariya Margam. 

The second mode is ritualistic in performing poojas and following well-established practices. The third mode is known as Yoga Margam consisted of strict codes of conduct, exercising control over the body and mind and engaging in meditation. The fourth and the highest form or mode is Gnana Margam. In Gnana Margam the re-animation of worldly desires, contemplative thinking and single-minded dedication to achieving salvation are emphasized. 

All the above-mentioned Margams are followed and practised with earnest dedication. In Sri Lankan Hindu temple rituals practices are followed with meticulous care. Daily practices are known as Nithya Kiriyas. And occasional practices are known as Nimithya Kiriyas. The monthly Hindu calendar lists these days with a certain significance. Both the Nithya Kiriyas and Nimithya Kiriyas are well preserved and carefully practised in Sri Lanka. 

Observing the regular and systematic pursuance of Hindu worship in the country, the great saint Thirumular gave the name ‘Sivapumi’ (Land of Siva) to Lanka. 

The island of Lanka is dotted with Hindu temples throughout its length and breadth. Among them, two outstanding temples are worthy of special mention. These are Thiruketheeswaram on the west coast of Sri Lanka, and Thirukoneshwaram in the Trincomalee district on the east coast of the island. Both these temples are hallowed by history and tradition.

 According to legend, there was once a conflict and clash between God of Wind Vayu Bhagavan and Athesheshan (thousand-headed Cobra). Unable to bear the wrath of Vayu Bhagavan, Athesheshan hid himself in Mount Meru (Meru Malai). The Vayu Bhagavan who was very powerful and mighty, blew the mountain to break it into three parts. One part fell on the western coast of Lanka, near the present-day Mannar and became Thiruketheeswaram. Another fell on the eastern coast near Trincomalee, to become Thirukoneshwaram. The third part fell on the southern part of the Indian coast and became Rameshwaram. 

According to the epic ‹Ramayana›, the Lankan King Ravana engaged in the worship of Siva both at Thiruketheeswaram and Thirukoneshwaram. Hymns composed by the great Saiva saints praise the devotion of King Ravana to Lord Siva. The two great shrines of Thiruketheeswaram and Thirukoneshwaram, find a special place in the hymns of Saiva saints. Saint Thirugnanasampanthar and Saint Thirunavukarasar (Appar) of the 7th century and Saint Sundaramoorthy Nayanar of the 8th century have sung the glories of these two temples. 

There is an overabundance of evidence about Ravana and Siva worship in Tamil literary works. For instance, in the ‹Thiruneetru Thirupathikam› composed by the great Saiva saint Thirugnanasampanthar mentioned in a phrase ‹›Ravanan melathu neeru›› meaning holy ash on Ravana which proclaims the devotion of King Ravana to Lord Siva. It also shows the high esteem in which King Ravana was held by the Saiva saints. According to puranic evidence, Ravana›s mother and wife were also devotees of Lord Siva. 

It is said that Ravana›s father-in-law the divine architect ‹Mayan› built the Thiruketheeswaram temple. According to the epic ‹Ramayana›, Lord Rama on his way back to India after the victory over Ravana, worshipped at the shrines of Thiruketheeswaram, Thirukoneshwaram and Munneshwaram, with the purpose of washing away the sins caused by the killing of Ravana. 

Thirukoneshwaram area was regarded as a citadel of Ravana›s kingdom. Thiruketheeswaram is often referred to as Theen Kailasam (Mt.Kailah of South). At Thirukoneshwaram also known as Konnamamali, there can be seen a cleft in the rock which is known as ‹Ravanan Veddu›, meaning ‹cut by Ravana›. 

Legend indicates that King Ravana while performing the last rite for his mother took out the sword and cut the rock to cause the permanent cleft. It is also said in the same legend that the funeral rites of Ravana›s mother were performed in the hot springs of Kinniya, close to Thirukoneshwaram.

 There is also ample historical evidence to show that many Sivan temples were built all over Sri Lanka by different rulers, chieftains and philanthropists and the general public in different periods. Each of these temples located in different parts of the country has its own history and grandeur. A few of the temples are worthwhile to be mentioned here. One of them is Karainagar Sivan temple which is in Karainagar in the Jaffna district. This temple is known as ‘Elathuchidamparam’ which is highly revered. 

Another important temple in the Jaffna district is the Naguleswaram Sivan temple situated in the coastal belt of the Keerimalai sea. This historic temple is located close to the Kankesanthurai natural harbour. In the heart of Jaffna town, there is another Sivan temple called Vanarpanai Vaitheeswaranather temple with majestic Kopuram (tower) decorated with excellent sculptures. This temple was built with exclusive Dravidian architecture. In the suburbs of Jaffna town also, numerous important historically based Sivan temples are seen. 

Nallur Sivan temple, Nallur Satanathar Sivan temple and Thirunelvelli Sivan temple are worthy of mentioning here. Besides these, most of the villages in the Jaffna peninsula have at least one or two Sivan temples. Among the five important Iswarams, Munneswaram is one of the most important and remarkable temples in the religious history of the country. 

The ancient Munneswaram temple is located in the Chilaw district. Polonnaruwa Sivan temples are generally numbered as Sivan devale one, Sivan devale two, Sivan devale three, Sivan devale four and Sivan devale five by the Archaeological Department of Sri Lanka. Some other remarkable temples which deserve to be mentioned are Odduchuddan Thanthontreswarar temple, in the Mullaitivu district, Kokkaddycholai Thanthontreswarar temple in the eastern province and Meenakshi Sundereshwarar temple in the Galle district in southern Sri Lanka. The famed Sri Ponnampalawaneshwarar temple in Kochchikade is located in the heart of Colombo city. This majestic temple was built only with granite. It is replete with evidence of the ancient rich Dravidian architecture, and excellent craftwork of the sculptors. An important and noteworthy aspect is that most of these temples are built closer to the seaports of the country. For instance, the Thiruketheeswaram temple was built near the seaport called Manthai or Mathotam. 

Thirukoneshwaram is located near the natural harbour of Trincomalee. Naguleswaram temple is also located near the Jaffna Kankesanthurai natural harbour. Similarly, the Sri Ponnampalawaneshwarar temple was built near the Colombo seaport. If we analyze the reasons as to why these majestic temples were built near the seaports, we would come to the conclusion that such seaports provide easy access for activities such as transporting the manpower, and materials for construction purposes. 

Sri Ponnampalawaneshwarar temple was also built near the Colombo seaport. It is believed that for the construction work of the temple, the labour force and the building materials were brought down from India. Hundreds of labourers and sculptors were engaged in the construction work. This temple was totally built in the typical Dravidian architectural style. 

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